Whose Body Is This?

When Our Bodies Ourselves first appeared in Boston as a stapled-together pamphlet in 1969 it was hard to find reliable information about birth control. Why? Because thanks to the Crimes against chastity law, the distribution of contraceptives by anyone other than a doctor to anyone other than a married person was illegal, even in the now-progressive state of Massachusetts.

I don’t mean abortion; I mean birth control.

This man, Bill Baird, was arrested at Boston University when after addressing an overflow audience of 2500 he gave a condom and a package of  contraceptive foam to an unmarried undergraduate woman. 

Arrested. Hauled off to jail and held there for months.

This was in 1967.

The law was still unchanged  in the summer of ‘69 when the women of the Boston Women’s Health Collective were writing this pamphlet that would become a book. 250,000 copies of it sold in the first year, mostly thanks to word of mouth.

I was about to enter my senior year in college in the summer of ’69. The summer before that, I had fallen in love with a boy named David. We had told our families that we’d be marrying as soon as I graduated. I was 19-and-a-half. I didn’t know much, but I knew I needed a prescription for the Pill.

But how would I get such a thing? Especially on the serene and cerebral  campus of  my women’s college? Lucky for me that college was Smith College, that drew from every state in the union,  and the roommate I’d had freshman year was from the sunny sane west. A citizen of the world from Aspen Colorado, she knew a lot more than I did.  “Call the Infirmary and tell then you have to see a doctor.” she said. “Say ‘I’m thinking of becoming sexually active and I need protection.’”

But could it BE that easy? Could I just say that to some stranger, just as if I had a right to ask such a thing?  It could and I did. I said what she told me to say and just like that I was protected until the time of my marriage and for half a dozen years afterward, until this David and I welcomed our first baby and thus began upon the joyful chapter of life that brought us three kids of our own and the opportunity to welcome and shelter a five more kids beyond in their teen years.  

Our Bodies Ourselves, now in its 11th printing, is not just about sexual health but about health of every kind. Here are  some of the women who worked on it, as they looked in those heady and complicated early years, this from the forepages of a companion work Ourselves and Our Children. I salute them. 

4 thoughts on “Whose Body Is This?

  1. I have been a frequent reader for many years. Ahh – “Our Bodies, Ourselves” brings back a lot of memories. It arrived in our home about 1974, when I was 13 and my sister 15. My VERY conservative mother bought it,and I remember it appeared without fanfare. But how honest and informative, in that era otherwise populated by Modess-published booklets instructing us how to remain “dainty” during menstruation.

    1. Patt,i yes! Our sex education(my sister’s and mine) came from this bullying little pamphlet called “Growing Up and Liking it” put out by that same sanitary napkin crowd. And
      good for your mom for putting that great book out! Thanks for this 🙂

  2. Dear Terry,
    I wanted to let you know that Bill Baird continues to fight for reproductive rights at the age of 80. This past June he picketed the National Right to Life Convention in Washington, D.C. Bill Baird has a presence in facebook here http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bill-Baird/400902533276575, and his organization is here http://www.prochoiceleague.org.

    Thank you for reminding people of Bill Baird’s struggle for reproductive rights in 1967. His arrest eventually led to the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Eisenstadt v. Baird, which legalized birth control for un-married people across the country. This year marks the 40th anniversary of his landmark case. Here is one this year’s stories about it. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/03/singles_right_t.php

    Julian Praxis, Community Outreach at Pro Choice League.

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